As we all bid goodbye to the year 2017, we also say farewell for a miserable and forgettable campaign for the Denver Broncos. It’s about damn time.
The beginning of the Vance Joseph era in Denver was bright with a 3-1 start, but the franchise dropped two of their final eleven games to finish to 5-11 on the season. A wasted year, missed opportunity or a horrific blunder. Call it what you will, but above all else this year’s performance was unacceptable — and it needs to be repaired immediately.
The Broncos can’t afford this sort of embarrassment to linger for too much longer or they run the risk with the stench of failure deterring their ability to reel-in quality coaches and players to help the franchise get back on track. The silver-lining is that they have secured the fifth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and have the cap space (and ability to generate more) to make some big moves in free agency to bring them back to championship competitor status.
Here are just a few thoughts on how that can be accomplished. Are you reading to see how the Broncos can be great again?
Find a Competent Head Coach
It’s quite obvious. With Vance Joseph likely on his way out, the number one priority for the Broncos will be finding another head coach. As much as I’d like to see them make a splash signing on a young, bright offensive mind — my guess is that John Elway and Joe Ellis find a well-seasoned coach who has prior head coaching experience to help right the ship.
One name to potentially keep an eye on is current Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. He has prior head coaching experience with Cleveland and Philadelphia, and has a good track record of success on offense, especially in respect to the passing game. It’s probably not a name that excites most fans, but it would be a very reasonable hire.
Who knows who the Broncos will end up hiring, but it needs to be a coach who can hold players accountable and bring some discipline and desire on the field to yield more positive results. They’ll need to hire some great assistants too, if a bunch of current coaches are sent packing too.
Go all-in on Kirk Cousins in Free Agency
If you want the Denver Broncos to start competing for championships once again in the near future, they are going to have to acquire a franchise quarterback. John Elway and the scouting department have fallen short attempting to find one in the draft, so pursuing Cousins is quite simply their best option at the time. This doesn’t preclude the Broncos from drafting someone in 2018, but gives them the ability to draft the best player available with their first round selection, as opposed to using it on a collegiate quarterback who may not be ready to take the reins in their rookie season.
Moreover, it’s an immediate way to upgrade the offense. It also helps the team get their money’s worth from high-dollar investments Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the team attempted to trade Sanders this offseason due to his high-price tag. I see no reason to get rid of Thomas, who is still a one of the league’s most talented receivers, but has suffered lately due to Denver’s quarterback carousel.
How to find the money for Cousins without depleting the roster
As of right now, the Broncos have nearly thirty million dollars in cap space for free agency. That’s not enough to get Cousins, retain key E/RFA’s and their draft class (which will take nearly $20 million) — so they are going to have to make some moves to make it a reality.
But don’t worry friends, the Broncos don’t have to get rid of key players (such as Aqib Talib) to afford him. Recent rumors suggest he could be on the chopping block, but that’d be a huge mistake. The No Fly Zone is the team’s most obvious strength. Entertaining any thought ship out anyone within the unit is insanity. There are a handful of players who have high dollar contracts who aren’t performing at a comparable level. I’ll throw some names and numbers out there.
For the record, I never see my #Broncos as "just a business" and definitely don't want to see a #NoFlyZone without @AqibTalib21. He's too important to this group, this team. https://t.co/J4SFweldZf via @MileHighReport— Doctor of Words (and tights) (@docllv) December 30, 2017
Menelik Watson is first on the chopping block. He has the ninth highest salary on the team for 2018 at $7.45 million. It was a bad free agent signing and the Broncos are going to have to move on from him. Cutting Watson accrues $2.6 million in dead money, but a cap savings of nearly $5 million. It’s a no brainer to do this, and their best shot to replace him will be with an early draft selection.
As much as I love C.J. Anderson’s heart and desire, it’s simply a numbers game at this point in time. Cutting Anderson gives the Broncos another $4.5 million in space, and allows Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson the opportunity to tote the rock in 2018. I’d also expect the Broncos to draft another back in a quality class to add to their stable.
With the rise of Shelby Harris, the Broncos don’t need to keep Zach Kerr, who has been inactive recently due to injury on the roster. The move saves them another $1.5 million and with just three simple moves, the Broncos add $11 million in cap space.
That should almost get them there, but to ensure they can do it, some veterans will need to be approached with restructures — such as converting base salary into bonuses that lower their cap hit or quite taking a pay cut. Perhaps Von would like to get some of his base salary converted into a bonus payout to help lower his cap hit, yet still getting his big bucks. Derek Wolfe, Emmanuel Sanders and Darian Stewart seem like prime restructure candidates, while Brandon Marshall could be a flat out cut. If designated as a June 1st cut, the Broncos can save nearly $5 million by ridding themselves of Marshall, who has been a disappointment ever since signing his big extension two years ago.
And that my friends, is how you get the money to sign Cousins, while keeping the No Fly Zone and a majority of the team’s best players on the roster.
Then the Broncos need to hit a home run in the 2018 NFL Draft
If you weren’t fired up bout it already, everyone should be excited about the potential Denver will have in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Broncos have nine selections in this year’s draft, but could get another third round compensatory selection for Russell Okung’s departure in free agency last year. If so, that would give them ten total selections — with six of them being in the first four rounds.
Before compensatory picks are factored in, the #Broncos currently hold: 5, 40, 71, 102, 105, 133, 151, 168, 199 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.— Christopher Hart (@topherhart) January 1, 2018
Without compensatory selections being factored in, these are the selections the Broncos currently hold: 5, 40, 71, 102, 105, 133, 151, 168, 199.
That should give them plenty of ammunition and the opportunity to acquire the best players available. Finding upgrades and starters at inside linebacker, right tackle and left guard will be priorities for Denver with their top selections. I’d also give serious consideration to using an early selection on another pass rusher, given the uncertainty regarding Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray’s long-term futures with the squad.
After those positions are addressed, the team needs to find some more playmakers on offense. Carlos Henderson and Jake Butt returning next year should provide a boost at wide receiver and tight end, but the Broncos should consider drafting prospects at both those positions, as well as adding another young running back to help the offense’s efficacy.
The Broncos have struggled to find talent in the draft, especially on offense during John Elway’s time with the team. That has to change if the franchise wants to be competitive quickly and in long-term. Make no mistake friends, Elway and his staff have to make every selection count. No more early round busts and blunders — they have to get dynamic contributors who can make an immediate impact.
Now that this nightmare season is over, it’s time for the Broncos to fix their mistakes and become great again. The opportunity is there for them to do so. Let’s all hope they don’t blow it and repeat past failures.